The Doctor is In; Pundits Psychoanalyze Clark
  by Gene Lyons

      Last month, this column predicted that the GOP response to Gen. Wesley Clark's presidential candidacy
would be to turn him into the Democratic equivalent of Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the megalomaniacal crackpot in
the classic film "Dr. Strangelove." Portraying Clark as mad with ambition appeared to be the only way to deal
with his otherwise perfect political resume--first in his class at West Point, Rhodes Scholar, a Purple Heart and
Silver Star for valor in Vietnam, NATO Supreme Commander, all that.

      Besides, the outlines of the strategy were already visible. It clearly behooves Republicans to take him out now.
Clark as the Democratic nominee would make Bush's re-election unlikely. Early profiles by members of what's The Note calls "The Gang of 500" bristled with anonymous quotes from Pentagon detractors
depicting Clark as, in Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's words,  "too weird for prime time." Note the
TV metaphor. Cohen wondered if "the personal qualities that bothered his [nameless] critics would be intolerable
in a president. We like our presidents as we like our morning TV hosts--comfy."

      "In an institution filled with ambitious men," wrote Post reporter Lois Romano more recently, "some viewed
Clark as over the top, someone who would do or say anything to get ahead-and get his way." Now to a rational
mind, accusing a West Point valedictorian, four-star general and presidential candidate of ambition is about as
newsworthy as charging a golden retriever with an unseemly zeal for chasing tennis balls.

      If the phrase "would do or say anything" sounds familiar, that's because it comes directly out of the GOP
playbook. The last Democrat depicted as crazed with ambition was Al Gore, who never figured out how to
counter a barrage of false accusations, such as the absurd canard that he claimed he'd "invented the internet,"
ceaselessly reiterated by Washington pundits taking dictation from the Republican National Committee.

      Although unconscious, there's a subtly royalist overtone to such comments. George W. Bush, see, doesn't
have to be a striver. No valedictorian he, Bush knows how to play the role of relaxed TV host/president precisely
because as a humble, everyday American aristocrat he was born to it. Hence his accomplishments in life needn't
make you, the humble voter or journalism major, feel inferior.

      The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, albeit a fine reporter not beloved by the Bush White House, once gave
a revealing explanation of the press's visceral antipathy to Gore on CNN's "Reliable Sources." Gore, Milbank said,
"has been disliked all along and it was because he gives a sense that he's better than us as reporters. Whereas
President Bush probably is sure that he's better than us--he's probably right, but he does not convey that sense.
He does not seem to be dripping with contempt when he looks at us, and I think that has something to do with
the coverage."

      With Bush currently scolding the press for reporting the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq, Milbank may wish to
revise his comments. Nevertheless, the importance of sheer, unadulterated envy in the media's eager acceptance
of the whisper campaign against Clark almost can't be overstated. Romano's Washington Post profile depicted
his response to anonymous detractors as downright pathological.

      "In interviews," she wrote, Clark "displayed the outward calm of a man who cannot bear to convey doubt
or failure."  [my italics] Actually, he sounded more exasperated to me. "How do you think I could have succeeded
in the military if every-body didn't like me? It's impossible," he said. "Do you realize I was the first person promoted
to full colonel in my entire year group of 2,000 officers? I was the only one selected. Do you realize that?...Do you
realize I was the only one of my West Point class picked to command a brigade when I was picked?...I was the first
person picked for brigadier general. You have to balance this out...A lot of people love me."

      Now I doubt that Clark volunteered that some people love him without first being told others hate him. (The ellipses
are Romano's.) Nevertheless, the doctor was definitely IN at the Washington Post, not to mention at The New Republic,
the allegedly "liberal" magazine where one Adam Kushner opined that Clark's response to anonymous slurs made him
appear "self-assured to the point of delusion."

      Delusion, mind you, a psychiatric term denoting dogged belief in false ideas. Unless Clark made up the facts, it's a
callow, ugly smear. The problem is that nobody but Clark himself can deal with it, and preferably on national TV.
During a recent Democratic debate, he referred to a rival general's unspecified slurs on his "character and integrity"
as sheer "McCarthyism." But he may need to confront symbolism with symbolism and go all Ollie North on them,
treating the whispers as an insult to his patriotism, and standing in front of a flag.

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